Let’s confine the stadium hooligans!

One of the Hearts fans in the Kumasi stadium riot being whisked away by the police

One of the Hearts fans in the Kumasi stadium riot being whisked away by the police

GHANA football may be at the crossroads, but the rod of discipline cannot afford to go dead at a time Ghanaians are expecting a swift reformation of the local game.

The news of riot during the return leg of the Kumasi Asante Kotoko-Accra Hearts of Oak ‘Super 2’ special friendly encounter on Sunday, leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

In an orgy of rage, fans of Hearts in the course of the game and after, vented their spleen on the plastic seats, ripped them off and hurled them onto the inner perimeter of the stadium.

The despicable act was in apparent protest of a perceived foul which was ignored on a Hearts player in the Kotoko box – eventually culminating in the club’s concession of the opening goal. Having already slumped to an embarrassing 0-2 scoreline in the first leg at the same venue a week earlier, Hearts fans may have felt hard done-by the referee.

Frustrated as they may have been, it does not give the fans the license to register their displeasure with demolition of national property. Regrettably, the poor seats came in handy as one for consolation and they were wiped out with ruthless venom.

According to the National Sports Authority (NSA), 271 seats were damaged in Sunday’s violence, running into more than GH¢32,000.

It may have come as welcome news to right-thinking members of the public when six of the alleged perpetrators of that reprehensible act – and one Kotoko fan – said to have been involved in violence, were arrested by security officers present and locked up.  As of the time of putting together this piece, they had been hauled before court to face the full rigours of the law. It is the right way to go!

Indeed, it is the expectation of many followers of the local game that when found guilty, the architects of that crime would be fined heavily or severely jailed or face both sanctions, to serve as a deterrent to other potential breakers of the law.  For, we cannot afford to brush this sin under the carpet all the time and think we can still fight stadium rowdyism normally.

Arresting culprits, keeping them for 48 hours and letting them walk scot-free after a supposed strong admonition, can never be the best way of fighting crime – especially stadium hooliganism!

We continue to have these pockets of violence at our stadia every now and then because of the careless, slipshod manner we had treated the issue in the past. It appears as though we do not really care much

The May 9 2001 Accra Sports Stadium Disaster in which a staggering 126 fans perished in cold blood, was a vinegary, bitter example.

As you may have been aware, we had video evidence of Kotoko fans angrily ripping off stadium chairs in apparent protest to Hearts of Oak’s Ishmael Addo’s winning goal. The fans claimed Ishmael had scored from an off-side position to post a 2-1 league victory – on that cold Wednesday evening.

Livid police officers who, in all probability, could not stand the ‘destruction’ of national property,  needlessly fired several rounds of tear-gas canisters into the irate crowd in the stands in a bid to disperse them. The upshot was carnage as fans running away from the scene lamentably produced a stampede that crushed them into shreds.

It is Africa’s worst sporting disaster, yet! But the offending fans were not punished!

But question is, have we learnt any lessons? The answer is a big NO!

Truth is, no football season ever passes without reports of stadium violence here and there. Even when offending fans are picked up, you would have top club officials dashing in to pay hefty amount of monies to get their ‘men’ off the hook.

The cycle continues year after year! It is sad because we do not seem to care about those who have lost their lives in stadium violence over the years.  Maybe, it is because they are not our blood relations.

Our local football has been on ice since Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ investigative documentary on the rot in Ghana football which was first aired on June 7, this year.  The exposé captured close to 100 referees misconducting themselves as well as some big wigs of the Ghana Football Association (GFA).

Seemingly horrified by the detail of the documentary, government placed a 10-day injunction on football activities, which was followed by an attempt to liquidate the GFA. But FIFA’s threat to ban Ghana football if the government proceeded with its action mellowed matters.

With the liquidation stuff now snuffed out, a FIFA-spearheaded Normalisation Committee (NC) to see to the full return of Ghana football, has been put in place. Among other things, its mandate include running the GFA’s daily affairs and cooperating with a special task force to be set up by FIFA, Confederation of African Football (CAF) and the Government of Ghana.

The NC will also review the GFA statutes to ensure compliance with the requirements of FIFA and CAF, particularly art. 15 of the FIFA Statutes, and; once the GFA statutes meet the requirements of FIFA and CAF, to organise and conduct elections of a GFA Executive Committee on the basis of the revised GFA statutes.

In all these, the football-loving-right-thinking fan will expect a tough, punitive sanction for supporters who misconduct themselves during games; for that is the only way we can effectively handle disturbances at our stadia.

Sometimes, it should be the responsibility of the clubs to cast the first stone at their offending fans and not wait for the state’s ‘long arm of the law’ to do the obvious.

A case in point: In March, this year, five fans who invaded the London Stadium pitch during West Ham’s premier league match against Burnley were handed life bans by the club.

In addition to the five offenders, which included 61-year-old Paul Colborne who planted a corner flag in the centre circle, the club issued life bans to “a number of individuals for violently throwing coins or objects with intent to injure or harm on the bridge directly in front of the directors’ box, according to London’s Evening Standard newspaper.

Again, on September 19, 2017, it was reported that Leicester splashed stadium bans on three fans for their “unacceptable conduct” during Brighton’s visit on August 19.

The trio’s exclusions range from two to 12 months and two of those banned have also been subject to criminal proceedings – one resulting in a conditional police caution and another a significant fine.

This is the true mark of professionalism. It is sheer club responsibility!

Could this club action plashed on their own fans ever happen in Ghana? It does not seem so now!

In August 16, 2016, known bull-headed fans of Kotoko – Seidu and Twum – needlessly attacked a sports journalist during the club’s week 23 Ghana Premier League clash with Dreams FC at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium in Kumasi. It was a heavy-hearted scene.

The perpetrators were caught on camera attacking the Jem FM Sports journalist, Gomez. His crime: he had insisted in his radio commentary that a penalty award to Kotoko was a dubious call by the referee.

Heartily, the culprits were later picked up and placed in police custody at the Asokwa Police Station. Sadly, high-ranking Kotoko officials stormed the station and bailed the duo who swaggered away in delight.

It is not only about Kotoko. This is the idiosyncrasy of our clubs whose supporters have always believed that they can even walk away with murder since their ‘big men’ would always show up to save their blushes.

We need to wake up now and save our football from these incorrigibly devious, unscrupulous fans! As a matter of urgency, until we start throwing these hooligans into jail, scenes like the Kumasi riot, will never cease in our game.

BY JOHN VIGAH

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